Civil society will have an even stronger presence and voice in the next Summit of the Americas, member government officials and the Organization of American States (OAS) reaffirmed at a recent forum in Miami. Civil society representatives from nearly all the OAS’ 34 member countries emerged from that meeting with a package of recommendations, including that governments should take a multi-sectoral and multidisciplinary approach to poverty reduction and human development, and invest more in science and technology to a minimum of 1% of gross domestic product by 2012.
The Hemispheric Civil Society Forum: “Securing Our Citizens’ Future by Promoting Human Prosperity, Energy Security and Environmental Sustainability” brought together some 120 representatives of civil society organizations around the Americas. Along with OAS and host country officials as well as Summits experts the leaders of non governmental groups gathered at the Miami Forum, from which they emerged with a package of recommendations that highlight specific proposals on energy security; human development and poverty reduction; and economic development and competitiveness.
Recommendations from this Forum will be considered for inclusion in the final document to be issued at the Fifth Summit of the Americas, slated for Port-of-Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, in April 2009.
The OAS and the Trinidad and Tobago government jointly organized the event, supported by the United States State Department, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), the Open Society Institute and the Inter-American Foundation. Participants represented a wide cross section of groups, including those active on issues related to youth, indigenous peoples, afro-descendants, persons with disabilities and academia.
The civil society participants contended that governments must translate Summits mandates into “obligations, administrative measures or realistic, measurable and accountable public policies,” and must share them with civil society. They also stressed the urgent need for all OAS member governments to strengthen democratic institutions as a vital resource in order to bring about development and human prosperity, with equity and in harmony with nature. Democratic institutions must be strengthened specifically in terms of representative democracy, participatory democracy and the inter-American system. Stressing the need for more public awareness on energy and environmental issues, they also called on the governments to promote the involvement of indigenous peoples, youth, afro-descendants, and women in policies and programs on energy and environmental sustainability.
As regards development, the proposals by civil society accentuated the need to encourage the development and universal access to modern and efficient low carbon energy generation and distribution systems, including intelligent grids and smart metering to encourage the development of new local sources, the development of more efficient energy markets.
Summing up what he saw as a successful Forum, OAS Assistant Secretary General Albert R. Ramdin hailed the outcome. In reaffirming comments he had made in opening the event, Ramdin underscored the importance of full commitment to civil society as “valuable stockholders in the process, and to listen to them and see how we can incorporate some of the recommendations they have made all very pertinent to the issues of the hemisphere.”
Ambassador Glenda Morean-Phillip, Trinidad and Tobago’s Permanent Representative to the OAS, hailed the unique perspective that civil society adds to the issues, calling it “a vital contribution to any hemispheric endeavor and to any endeavor geared at our collective development.”
For his part, United States Permanent Representative to the OAS Ambassador Hector Morales told the Forum participants: "As governments look to the next Summit, we have the opportunity to—and I would argue must—work together with your organizations to remain focused on finding concrete, tangible, and democratic solutions to improve our citizens' futures and meet the expectations and demands of our citizens."
Morales noted as well, that "the 2009 Summit of the Americas will be an opportunity for the next U.S. Administration, working with its partners in the OAS, and with the strong leadership of Trinidad and Tobago to build upon this and previous Administration achievements. The task will be to build on Summit successes and develop bold initiatives that delver concrete, measurable results in support of our common hemispheric agenda."
Trinidad and Tobago’s National Summit Coordinator Ambassador Luis Alberto Rodriguez spoke about consensus-building as a hallmark of preparations for the Fifth Summit: “We have strived to incorporate the perspectives and experiences of the widest cross section of actors across the Hemisphere.” He said in developing the theme and the Concept Paper for the Fifth Summit of the Americas, the Trinidad and Tobago government has consulted widely—with member states, with members of the Joint Summit Working Group, and with civil society organizations.
“We have taken the responsibility of not only ensuring that all voices are represented, but that a collective vision for the Americas reaches out and connects with all the peoples of the hemisphere, especially the most vulnerable,” Rodriguez argued. “We envision a future in which all our citizens have the opportunity to participate fully in society, to benefit from economic development and growth, and to enjoy peace, security and prosperity in their daily lives.”
On health and nutrition issues, the civil society representatives called for more focus on investment in policies for food security; to combat malnutrition-related infant mortality; and to promote collaboration among community, university and state associations engaged in agricultural production in order to meet the requirements of the needs of member states’ particular food policies. They suggested a unified approach to educational policies geared towards preventing absenteeism and to ensure that education foster community development through the establishment of community participation councils, to bring together students, families teachers and professionals, and for the human rights declaration to become a formal part of the school curriculum